“Sometimes I have to pinch myself, and I’ve been at Crystal [Dynamics] a while now, so I think it’s safe to say it’s not going to wear off,” said Meagan Marie of her job as Senior Community Manager for the company behind the Tomb Raider video game series. Marie spoke to Geek & Sundry about how cosplay bonds fans of Lara Croft, inspiring meaningful friendships in what she deems “one of the most welcoming and accepting” cosplay communities in existence.
The franchise that made Croft a household name celebrates its 20th anniversary this coming October. Rise of the Tomb Raider, the fifth Tomb Raider game developed by Crystal Dynamics, was released to nearly universal acclaim in November.
As accolades for the game began to pour in, Marie was wrapping up a worldwide promotional tour that included cosplay events celebrating Croft, who she has personally cosplayed for over 15 years. Marie said the British-born archaeologist was “probably one of the longest-running and most prevalent costumes at conventions throughout the past two decades.”
Marie takes her job seriously as she works hard to provide fans with opportunities to interact with the game’s development team by producing events that celebrate and reward their fandom. Over time, she’d seen cosplay evolve from a solitary hobby to one that encourages deep bonds between fans; creating cosplay-based teams that function as adopted families.
“That’s one of the reasons we started doing cosplay meetups,” she said, “we’ve had the privilege of introducing cosplayers who’ve known each other for 10 or 15 years but have never met in person… It was really incredible to see them, and how they interacted and how meaningful it was.”
“We actually have a large amount of male Lara Croft cosplayers too, and they get really creative,” she said. “We have one named Isaac who is a fantastic community member and he goes by Tom Braider, and you have other people who go by Lawrence Croft or Larry Croft and so on.” Marie said she felt Croft’s qualities were “aspirational characteristics that transcend her gender.”
Marie pointed out that while cosplay communities are sometimes geared toward more realistic, screen-accurate representations of characters, the Tomb Raider group had fans who look “totally different and unique to their version of Lara and that’s really accepted.” It’s one of the reasons she said was initially drawn to the Tomb Raider community: “they’re just so welcoming and helpful.”
As cosplay has surged in popularity, it’s visibility at the ever-expanding number of pop culture conventions around the world affords many opportunities for fans to form fandom-based friendships. Calling it “the visual confetti of conventions,” Marie loves how cosplay allows fans to showcase their passions. “People can get a read on you instantly. They know if they have something in common with you, so it’s a great icebreaker.”
She’s seen that icebreaker in action in her travels promoting Rise of the Tomb Raider over the past year. With stops everywhere from Singapore to Brazil, Marie relies on the kindness of “real life” strangers to show her the local view of the cities she visits. While such a meetup might seem to have a great potential for awkwardness, Marie assured me it was just the opposite experience. “It’s so bizarre, you know? You’ve never met someone in person. I just know them from their username and you’ll meet up and you’ll just sight-see all day, and it’s incredible how quickly you bond because you have this shared passion.”
The promotional events where these friendships are cemented cater to cosplayers specifically in order to acknowledge the incredible amount of heart, soul, and effort these fans pour into creating their costumes. They include showcases, parades, and meetups where cosplayers walk away with bags of exclusive merchandise, as well as photos of their outfits taken by professional photographers.
“A lot of companies do [cosplay] contests,” Marie said, “and I’ve moved away from that. I’m not overly interested in creating a competitive atmosphere amongst our cosplayers.” And the atmosphere of camaraderie fostered at the events endures. “Without question, after any event, you start to see that everybody’s now connected on Facebook and we’ve got a whole bunch of new members in the team leader cosplay group. People are really connecting and staying friends… It’s a pretty special thing.”
Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s upcoming story expansion, Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch, launches on January 26.
Featured Image: Cosplayers at Brazil Game Show Credit: Xbox